Beauty and the Beast is a French classic that has seen many prior iterations, both made for cinema and TV. This one brings together two British actors, Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, in the title roles. The film takes us to a small French village called Villeneuve, where the spirited and often called ‘odd’ Belle, dances her way in and out of people’s hearts. The war hero Gaston (played by Luke Evans) is back in the village and spends his time obsessing over Belle and wishes to make her his wife. Belle obviously is completely turned off by his charms, for she knows that there has to be a world beyond this ‘provincial’ life. Her meanderings around the village and her love/hate relationship with a lot of its residents makes her dreams take flight.
Her father (nice to see Kevin Klein back after sometime) plays Maurice, the craftsman who takes his small crafted articles to the market. He promises to bring back a rose for Belle, similar to a childhood memory she has. This version by Bill Condon steers away from the family drama of the original, where Belle was the sought after daughter of a rich father, causing considerable sibling jealousy. But the drama is saved for the encounter Maurice has, on his way back from the market, as he ventures looking for a rose he had promised to his daughter. Finding himself lost in the woods, hoping his dependable horse Philipe would find their way back, he is chased by bloodthirsty wolves and ends up at the castle of the Beast.
When Philipe gallops home, without his master, Belle asks to be taken to her father and she rides her horse, back to the castle where her father is held hostage by the Beast.
The story from here is the usual tale of Belle’s slow evolution to finding her true love. Typical Disney fare, the film is full of musical numbers, stunning images and talking furniture. The only thing that peeved me was that in a film where even a coat rack talks, the dependable horse, who becomes the vehicle of quite a few lifesaving escapes, remains mute, without as much as a neigh.
Condon does will to craft Gaston as the evil, power hungry ‘monster’ juxtaposed to the (physically) beastly Beast. Interestingly, the transformation of the Beast remains completely unexplained. From an arrogant prince, consumed by his youth and beauty, that attracts the wrath of the sorcerer at the introduction of the film, he turns into this wronged Beast, pining to be rescued by his beautiful princess. Was the arrogance slighted by the spell of the sorcerer and did the personality do a complete U-turn? What happened to the vain prince who hides behind the cover of a beast? I wasn’t sure.
I do feel that this story attempts a bit of turning the tables on gender roles. Here is this peasant girl who must rescue the doomed (for almost forever) prince and bring him to his state of youth and beauty.
There is the youthful screen presence of Emma Watson, fine acting by Dan Stevens as the Beast, both add some bits for comic/evil relief. The entire hullabaloo about the gay subtext between Gaston and Le Fou is a bit overrated. The only time we see anything visibly ‘gay’ is fleeting proximity between Le fou and another character, during the last dance. Gaston’s fall from grace in Le Fou’s eyes doesn’t take long and he turns on him pretty quick.
Last quick point: whenever I watch movies and see that there is added ‘diversity’ in casting choices, I wonder how much of that is dictated by being on the right side of the issues or merely appearing to be. Fortunately, for Beauty and the Beast, the lovelorn young girl and the suffering Beast take up all of the screen time, thus the debate remains moot. My take away from this was the reassertion that beauty is indeed skin deep.
Beauty and the Beast is now playing in theatres.